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Thunder roundtable: Discussing Chris Paul's future, OKC's most indispensable and pressure on Billy Donovan

Thunder coach Billy Donovan will likely turn to Steven Adams more in the wake of trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
Thunder coach Billy Donovan will likely turn to Steven Adams more in the wake of trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

The Thunder preseason is officially here, kicking off with general manager Sam Presti’s press conference Thursday.

The Oklahoman’s Thunder coverage team asks the pressing questions entering this season:

Which player are you most intrigued by entering the season?

Jenni Carlson, columnist: Steven Adams. Yes, he’s a long-timer, but with this new collection of players, I’m extremely interested in how he fits in. What will his game look like? How will his leadership change? Count me intrigued.

Erik Horne, Thunder beat writer: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The 21-year-old received rave reviews as a rookie on the Clippers. How will Billy Donovan use him alongside Chris Paul and how much control will he ultimately have over the offense?

Maddie Lee, Thunder beat writer: Andre Roberson. The Thunder’s future doesn’t depend on him, but his health can vastly affect OKC’s immediate fate. What will Roberson (left patellar tendon surgery) look like after 20 months of injury rehab?

Berry Tramel, columnist: Gilgeous-Alexander. The biggest factor in the Thunder rebuild is SGA. Is he a budding superstar? Is he a franchise cornerstone? We soon begin finding out, and if the answers are yes, the future looks much brighter.

When is Chris Paul going to be traded?

Carlson: Before the trade deadline but not before the season. My guess is teams that might be interested will want to see how his body holds up. With his big contract, proving he’s healthy will be important.

Horne: After Dec. 15. Would the Thunder like to get it done earlier? Probably. But Dec. 15 is the date free agents who signed this summer will become eligible to be traded. That means more trade options.

Lee: By the trade deadline. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Miami is still interested in Paul. Even with Paul’s hefty contract, other teams could get in the mix after Dec. 15. But OKC also isn’t going to rush the process.

Tramel: My guess is sooner rather than later. Before Christmas. Maybe even before the season opener. It seems clear that Miami would like CP3 and the Thunder would like CP3 to be elsewhere, because of his contract. As soon as they can make the money swap match, a deal will be done.

If you’re Sam Presti, what could you reasonably expect in a trade for Chris Paul?

Carlson: More high draft picks would be great, but at this point, a promising young player or two on rookie contracts would be great. Someone like Jerami Grant was when the Thunder acquired him.

Horne: A young prospect and a couple of expiring contracts. The Thunder already owns two of Miami’s future first-round picks, so it may need a third team to re-ignite those talks. Paul is making $38.5 million. OKC has to absorb some bad salary.

Lee: One player or first-round draft pick, plus whatever contracts balance the deal. When the Thunder and Heat were in trade talks involving Russell Westbrook in July, the Miami Herald reported that OKC was pushing for two prospects. Talks with the Heat then fizzled.

Tramel: I think one good asset is all you can expect. Probably not a draft pick or picks. Probably just one of Justice Winslow, Tyler Herro or Bam Adebayo. And probably not Herro. If the Thunder could get Winslow and take on whatever contracts make it work, both sides would be happy.

Is Billy Donovan on the hot seat?

Carlson: Any coach in the last year of his contract is on the hot seat. Donovan needs to show he can lead this next iteration of the Thunder. Otherwise, a switch would make sense after the season.

Horne: Definitely. Donovan did better with the All-Stars than he gets credit for, but how the young Thunder players progress and respond to his coaching will be critical.

Lee: Yes. But wins aren’t necessarily what the team is looking for from him. In the last year of his contract, Donovan is tasked with finding a way to highlight the talents of a group in transition.

Tramel: Oh, not now. Every coach this side of Gregg Popovich is on the hot seat when the season opens. Donovan’s contract expires after this season, so that’s always dicey. Donovan’s status at the end of the year depends on more than the OKC record — it depends on where the Thunder is roster-wise and plan-wise.

Now that Russell Westbrook and Paul George are gone, who is the most indispensable Thunder player?

Carlson: Adams. He’s the best combination of skill, experience and demeanor. One day, Gilgeous-Alexander will likely be the best player, but he’s young and this season will be an adjustment. Adams is a stalwart.

Horne: Adams: Not the best player, but the player missed the most when not on the floor. Adams’ screens are vital on offense, and the Thunder has never ranked lower than 10th in defense in the past three seasons post-Durant/Ibaka.

Lee: Gilgeous-Alexander. He may not be the most polished Thunder player this year, but the 21-year-old is one of few players on the current roster that is expected to still be on the team through OKC’s rebuild.

Tramel: Adams. When the waves rise high, it always helps to have an anchor. Adams’ stability gives the Thunder a defensive identity and his rebounding is world-class. That gives the Thunder a foundation.

Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›

Erik Horne

Erik Horne is in his fourth season on the Thunder beat. Horne joined The Oklahoman as a sports web editor/producer in September 2013 following a five-year stint at The Ardmoreite (Ardmore) – first as a sports writer, then sports editor. At The... Read more ›

Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›

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